Raise the bar with garden-fresh ingredients that transform cocktails into signature drinks
by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
Cheers! Drinks made with just-picked herbs, fruit, and vegetables as flavorings are the toast of the party season, whether made with alcohol or not.
As cocktail gardeners have grown more adventurous, the happy-hour repertoire has expanded beyond the classic sprig of spearmint for Juleps and Mojitos. The newfound art of mixology now included homegrown blackberry cocktails and drinks garnished with edible dianthus petals and frilly marigolds. When the ingredients are within easy reach of an imaginative bartender, every cocktail becomes a signature drink.
Cocktail gardens are designed to fit in a standard 2′ x 8′ foot bed with herbs and plants needed for custom cocktails. Above all, a cocktail garden should be pretty and in a comfortable spot. Good design comes first. The recipe for a successful cocktail garden follows. You need a flat place for a table and chairs where you can park wine or cocktail mixes and backup glasses. If you have a seating wall instead of a lot of furniture, you earn an A+. Built-in seating is charming, so people simply perch.
Cocktails Herbs to Grow
- Orange mint
- Cuban mint
- Thai basil
- Lemon thyme
- Lemon verbena
- Rose-scented geranium
Cocktail Fruits & Vegetables to Grow
- Gherkin cucumber
- Red currant
- Hot pepper
Never underestimate the flavors of fresh produce in a cocktail. A Pimm’s Cup made with cucumbers from your backyard dramatically differs from what you get at a grocery store. You’ll be blown away by how something so simple can be so good, with a delicate and complex flavor.
Pimm’s Cup started as a health drink in 1840s London. The blend of mid-proof spirit with lemon, ginger, and fruit is as revitalizing as cocktails. Its charm is lovely on a hot day.
- 2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- Ginger ale
- Garnish: cucumber slice
- Garnish: mint sprig
- Garnish: strawberry
- Garnish: lemon wheel
- Garnish: orange wheel
- Add Pimm’s No. 1 and lemon juice into a highball glass over ice, then top with ginger ale and stir.
- Garnish with a cucumber slice, mint sprig, skewered strawberry, and optional lemon and orange wheels.
If you have room, a fountain adds to the glamour of a cocktail garden, and in the evening, candlelight moves the mood. People take 2 1/2′ feet to stand in the garden and drink a cocktail. Don’t be afraid to over invite friends, they like to be crowded. Guest figure it out.
Grows grapes on a trellis and raspberries or blueberries in containers. Something is intoxicating about the very idea. Nasturtiums and daylilies are beautifully mixed with fresh peaches in champagne for a festive Bellini. The atmosphere of the garden itself is part of the cocktail. Providing ambiance, fresh air, sunlight, and songbirds in the garden. Drink it all in.
Bellini are sparkling Italian cocktails made with two simple ingredients: Prosecco and peach purée. They’re fizzy and refreshing, with more body than your average cocktail.
- 4 medium ripe peaches, plus a few peach slices for garnish
- 1 bottle Prosecco, chilled
- Make peach purée. Place halved peaches in a blender until the purée is smooth. Place it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to cool.
- Pour 1/4 cup chilled purée into a Champagne flute. Pour in chilled Prosecco. Gently stir with a spoon to combine.
- Top off the drink with another splash of Prosecco and garnish with a peach slice.
English Garden cocktail combines the classic pairings of St-Germain Elderflower liqueur, gin, apple, lime & cucumber and is filled with quintessential English flavors.
- 5 mint leaves, bruised
- 1 oz gin
- 2 tsp elderflower cordial
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- handful of ice
- cloudy apple juice
- 1 long strip of cucumber
- Mix the mint leaves, gin, elderflower cordial, and lemon juice together in the bottom of a tall glass using a long spoon.
- Add a large handful of ice, then top with the apple juice. Stir well, then drop in the strip of cucumber.
Whiskey Beet Cocktail – That’s right: a beet cocktail! The cocktail is too pretty to drink and starts with homemade beet and sage. Muddle fresh sage into your shaker for even more herbal flavor.
- 4 medium beets
- 1/4 cup rye whiskey
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Peel the beets cutting each into eight wedges, and add to a 1-quart jar along with the ginger, mustard seeds, and bay leaf.
- Combine the vinegar, maple syrup, and salt with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour enough liquid into the prepared jar to cover the beets and let cool to room temperature.
- Refrigerate for 12+ hours and up to 2 weeks, shaking the jar every few days to distribute the flavors.
- Add rye whiskey for a cocktail kick.
Until next week, I’ll be helping local gardeners plant cocktail gardens here at Watters Garden Center.